February 17, 2005

We dogmatists

No, I am not tolerant.

No, I do not want to 'debate' or 'enter into dialogue with' liberal democrats, PoMoSophists, opnionists, carnalists, hedonists, mensheviks, individualists....

No, I don't respect you, nor do I solicit such respect for myself from you.

The defenders of tolerance, debate, dialogue and respect advertise their bourgeois credentials with such advocacy. I'm sorry, apolologists for exploitation of labour, but, no, I don't see it as my duty to provide the enemy with a space to express itself. You already have the global videodrome, the judiciary, the police, the psychiatric establishment and the most powerful armies of the world on your side. If that isn't enough, you could always make the effort to build your own profile and audience so you can add to the chorus of approval for the Satanic-worldly. (Too much like hard work? Thought so.)

Be under no illusions: differends, incommensurability, language games, forms of life, very far from disrupting the Dominant Operating System are that operating system in person. Zizek is right about Rorty being right: for all their apparent philosophical wrangles, the political upshot of the theories of Derrida and Habermas (and one can presumably add in Lyotard here) is exactly the same: defence of the liberal values of respect for Otherness etc etc.

Yes, I want to leave all that behind. One of the scandals of Badiou's thought is to announce the blindingly obvious: difference is not suppressed by the established order, it is its banal currency. Fragmentation, deconstruction, cut-up are the very stuff of which mediocracy is made.

So, yes, hold on tight and spit on me, I am a dogmatist.

But what does being a dogmatist entail?

Briefly, it involves commitment to the view that there are Truths. One can add to this, the view that there is a Good.

It's no accident that, since Kant*, rationalism has been held to be synonymous with dogmatism. Post-Kant, we have grown accustomed to the view that critique rather than dogma is the only acceptable ethical and philosophical position, so that 'rational dogmatism' sounds like the worst imaginable insult.

But where does this attack come from? Fundamentally, four interrelated positions: authoritarianism, mysticism, egotism and relativism.

Far from being equivalent to authoritarianism, as the postmodern liberal doxa would have it, dogmatism is only effective alternative to authoritarianism. Authoritarianism and postmodern 'forms of life' entail one another. The familiar PoMo relativist insistence that it is neither possible nor desirable to arbitrate between the different ethical and ontological claims of 'incommensurate' 'language games' surrenders reason to mysticism. Unlike rationalist systems, which proceed from stateable axioms or principles, these 'forms of life' are unable to point to any reasoning which founds them. The sheer existence of these 'discursive communities' is held to be the justification for any traditions and beliefs to which such communities might subscribe. It should come as no surprise that Spinoza was feared and reviled by the authorities of all established religions, since Spinoza used reason alone to prove that the core belief upon which traditional theism was based - that there is a personal, transcendent God who performs miracles and has free will - was irrational nonsense. In other words, it was Spinoza's dogmatism that allow him to overthrow the 'authority' of the Torah.

In terms of contemporary academic philosophy, rationalism is beset not only by Nietzschean-Wittgensteinian-Lyotardianism and Heideggerian Nazi poetico-mysticism, but also by the qualia cult of consciousness. This 'philosophy' replaces the ineffable mystery of God with the ineffable mystery of consciousness. It consists solely in the negative claim that consciousness cannot be explained by either science or philosophy. This is religion in the worst sense.

But dogmatism is religion in the best sense. It is only through dogmatism - ruthless subordination of your Self to an impersonal system - that his majesty the Ego can be crushed. This has been the appeal of nontheistic religion throughout the ages. The Ego is simply authority in miniature (just as political authoritarianism is Egotism writ large), a micro-despot which can only be pushed off his throne by a commitment to sober systematicity.

Finally, it is a mistake to oppose dogmatism to pragmatism. Postmodernism advocates pragmatism at every level: not only at the level of how to get things done (the realm of praxis) but also at the level of what is to be done. But dogmatism is capable of distinguishing between what is to be done - what the goal is - from how this is to be achieved.

*Kant, who begins as a Leibnizian rationalist, is famously 'awoken from his dogmatic slumber' by Hume. The Kantian turn is away from dogma and into critique. Reason is not so much surpassed as arrested. Kant seeks to establish the limits of the thinkable, curbing Reason's alleged hubris, and laying the groundwork for the aporetic pathos-poetics piously peddled by the tragedians of deconstruction and postmodernism.

Yet, as Tim establishes, with his typically concise elegance, Kant has himself been surpassed, by mathematics. Whilst it might appear that the mathematical paradoxes discovered by Cantor and Godel comfortably fit into Kantianism - the idea that 'the Real itself is fundamentally unrepresentable; we can only become aware of “this outer limit of the symbolic”' - Badiou allows us to see that the reverse is the case. For Badiou, that is to say, the mathematical paradoxes 'demonstrate not that what we thought was coherent is actually not, but that what we thought was incoherent is actually rigorously understandable. Unconstructible sets, unique unnameable objects and unprovable statements all seem like they are impossible, but maths shows us that they’re actually perfectly acceptable objects we can talk about without incoherence.'

Posted by mark at February 17, 2005 06:01 PM | TrackBack